Hopi, Navajo settle decades old land dispute

    Window Rock, Arizona (AP)

    The Navajo and Hopi tribes have settled a decades-old dispute over reservation boundaries that for years kept some residents from fixing leaky roofs or installing running water or telephone service.

    The Hopi Tribal Council voted 18-0 during October to approve an intergovernmental compact with the Navajo Nation, whose territory surrounds the Hopi Reservation.

    “We hope this is the beginning of a new era in Hopi-Navajo relations,” Cedric Kuwaninvaya said in a statement. Kuwaninvaya chairs the Hopi Land Team that negotiated the agreement.

    “The members of both tribes could benefit from the kind of cooperation that produced this agreement,” he said. “We look forward to those further opportunities.”

    The dispute centered on 700,000 acres of Navajo land that Hopis claim as their Aboriginal homeland.

    Because of the dispute, then-U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs Robert Bennett imposed a ban on construction in 1966, which severely limited development in the area. Minor problems such as broken windows or roof repairs could not be fixed on the disputed land unless approved by the Hopis.

    The agreement will provide for religious access and use by members of each tribe on the lands of the other tribe and lift the construction ban. It also would end litigation the Hopis filed against the Navajos in 1974 as part of the land dispute.

    The Hopi Tribe would not receive any Navajo land other than that already awarded by the courts.

    The Navajo Nation covers about 23,000 square miles, including much of northeastern Arizona and parts of northwestern New Mexico and southern Utah. The Hopi Reservation, in the center of the Navajo land, covers more than 2,400 square miles.

    Under the deal, Navajos would be allowed to enter Hopi land without a permit for traditional religious practices. In turn, Hopis would be allowed to enter Navajo land without a permit for religious practices.

    The Navajo Nation Council approved the agreement in September.

    Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley, Jr. said he received news of the Hopi’s approval from Navajo Nation Attorney General Louis Denetsosie.

    “Few phone calls I’ve received as president have ever been such good news,” Shirley said in a statement. “This is another day both the Navajo and Hopi people have waited 40 years for. I send my warmest congratulations to the entire Hopi Tribal Council and Vice Chairman Honyaoma.”

    The agreement still must be approved by the federal government and U.S. District Court in Phoenix.

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